What is the theme of Monster and what are two examples that illustrate the theme and explain how they illustrate it?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the themes of Walter Dean Myers's novel Monster is that of Self-Discovery.

After his arrest, Steve Harmon spends time in a cell at a detention center when he is not in the courtroom. Because of his interest in film-making, he writes a screenplay that covers the events of his life at this time in order to try to make sense of what is happening. In a sense, then, Steve separates from himself and sees his face reflected in the scratched mirror, wondering how he will later look at the end of the trial. However, he initially accepts the identity given him by the prosecutor: "monster." His attorney, Kathy O'Brien, who tells him it is her job to convince the jury that Steve is, indeed, human. Ironically, it is the prison that has the potential to turn Steve into a monster as he begins to see himself as no more than the others. But, he uses flashbacks to talking with his little brother to keep himself in reality.

Here are two examples of this theme of Self-Discovery

  • During the trial, Steve hears many versions of what occurred when the robbery in which he was involved. This subjective nature of what should be the truth exacerbates Steve's uncertainty about himself, yet when he is back in his cell and talking with Ms. O'Brien, he wants to open his shirt and ask her to examine his heart; he ponders, “I know that in my heart I am not a bad person.” [Journal Entry #4]

Here Steve begins to doubt himself and wants Ms. O'Brien to know that he is not a liar, nor a murderer as some of the others are. His desire to tell his attorney what he is reveals some of his own self-doubt.

  • Keeping his journal and writing the screenplay help Steve think objectively and be aware of his own reality and humanity within the confusion wrought by the blurring of reality in the trial as the other boys falsify their testimony. As a result, Steve becomes uncertain of who he is, writing later following a visit from his mother who cries and hands him a Bible after he has spoken in prison talk, "It was me who lay on the cot wondering if I was fooling myself." [Journal Entry #7, July 11th]

Here Steve notes that he is being changed by his experiences in the detention center and in the courtroom. Perhaps, Steve wonders, he has become more like the others than he thinks.

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